Thursday, June 29, 2006
I should have been more precise in my earlier post about the flag-burning amendment, and Rick's skepticism underscores my lack of clarity. I can envision a prudent role for the expressive function of the law in articulating, or even facilitating, the society's collective embrace of a certain symbol -- e.g., a law describing the official flag of the United States and recommending a certain course of treatment (disposal, folding, etc.) by citizens. I would separate the expressive component from the coercive component. If the law, understood as representing the coercive power of the state, mandated particular treatment of a class of objects (rather than a specific irreplaceable object, such as a flag sewn by Betsy Ross) solely because of the objects' symbolic value, I would object.
My question to Rick (and others): can you think of an example where state power could prudently be brought to bear to mandate certain treatment of a class of objects that are valuable solely because of their symbolism? When it comes to symbols, shouldn't the state act like the Church: willing to propose, but not to impose?